Conquering Kotor, Montenegro

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of KotorMontenegro. Say it.

It sounds… exotic, feisty, mysterious.. even dangerous.

These qualities (obviously) mean I should add it to my list of places to go with three young children, right?

Wait, are we nuts?! Probably. I know there are other families that take their kids even crazier places than we do, but, man, we are so far gone from pretty little Disney holidays.

Today’s adventure takes place in slick little Montenegro, another former YU country (sorry, I know I put it on our bucket list and it’s not technically Croatia, but just go with it). Known as Crna Gora / Црна Гора to locals, most people young, rich, and/or famous know it as a fabulous place to party (Budva).

But, we know it as a (literally) breathtaking place to drink in views of the fjord-like Bay of Kotor.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Bay of Kotor.

Kotor is a popular day trip from Dubrovnik given that it’s supposedly only an hour and a half drive (see Notes at the end of this post). If you like collecting stamps in your passport from random small countries to up your count or exploring old stone cities steeped in history, Kotor might be for you.

Just don’t come here to climb up to St. John’s Fortress like we did.

No, no, no.

The city of Kotor, located on the bay of the same name, is quite small and can be explored in an hour or two. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kotor is cute, and sweet (which is about the opposite of how Montenegro sounds). Plus, it’s less crowded than its flashy friend to the north, Dubrovnik. Cruise ships have started docking in the city, but you can check the schedule in advance and adjust your itinerary to visit on a different day.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

So, what do you do after you’ve strolled the ancient streets? You could do something normal and sane like sit down at a cafe, have a drink, and and enjoy the atmosphere. Or you could set your sights on higher and more insane things like conquering St. John’s Fortress… with children.

I cannot officially recommend schlepping kids up 1,350 stone steps, so I won’t. But I will tell you how it could be done if you thought you might be hare brained enough to entertain the idea. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Pick up a map from the tourist information kiosk just outside the city walls. Or, just walk away from the bay and toward the mountain. You can’t miss it. Bring euros for the small entrance fee as well as water, snacks, and bribes for the hikes. You’re going to need it.

The first thing you’ll notice is that you have two choices: walk on stone steps or a somewhat flattened pile of rocks, both of which are quite slick in the rain (did I mention it was raining?!).

If you’re a parent, your two options become one option. Walk on the rocks while your child walks on the steps. Well, except for the parts of the climb where the low wall that provided a false sense of protection against a nasty tumble down the hillside is, conveniently, missing. Then, you can switch places until the wall reappears.

About fifteen minutes into the climb when you’re soaked to the bone underneath your rain jacket because good golly is this thing steep or what, you’ll reach the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.

Fabulous, you’re nearly there, right? Ha, no. But you can take a rest with the chain-smoker that’s more than happy to sell you an over-priced bottle of water. People watching is, of course, complimentary.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Just passing the Church of Our Lady of the Remedy.

Try to keep your eyes on the route and not on the fantastic panorama unfolding with each step up. You don’t want to slip on those rocks and take the kids down with you. No, no. Oh, and try not to think about why you don’t see any other families along the way.

When you do reach the top, you might want to (again) watch your step. It’s not like the fortress is falling apart or anything, but, well, yeah, it pretty much is. And the edges don’t have secure railings, so you might want to embarrass your kids by tagging along when they need to take a leak so they don’t tumble when they tinkle.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back because that was one heck of a climb. And one seriously ridiculous idea with tots in tow. But the view, the view, the view, THE VIEW!Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

It’s easy to understand why this spot was chosen to fortify. From here, you can see so much of the Bay of Kotor, the city of Kotor, and the surrounding terrain.

Set up the self-timer, and burn up the camera. This is a perfect place to take a family photo. Just don’t position expensive cameras or precious children too close to the edge of anything.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

On the way back down, try to ignore those shaky legs. What are you, a weakling? You just owned that climb up to the fortress! Promise the kids they can have  a n y t h i n g  they want to eat from the grocery store if they just make it down in one piece.

Bonus: Groceries in Montenegro are CHEAP, so they can have the chips, the ice cream, and the juice for all I care.Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Why yes I did just sweat my way up and down the mountain behind me, thanks for asking.

I’m (obviously) being cheeky here, and just in case the sarcasm is lost on you (Sheldon Cooper), I don’t want you to think we didn’t enjoy Kotor. In fact, we loved it, and it goes down as one of the best days of our Croatian adventure.

Also, I probably should add that for all my groveling here for the sake of humor, actually our kids made it up with hardly any whining. Reading that statement from my trip notes and typing it again here, I can barely believe it, but it must’ve happened. Just don’t expect a repeat performance, right?Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

By the way, I’m partly blaming my desire to conquer the climb up to St. John’s Fortress on Calli and Travis of Have Blog Will Travel. Their post got me hooked on the idea, and, well, we’re suckers for a good view. If they did it, why couldn’t we? Oh right, because we have THREE LITTLE KIDS with us. And apparently I just skipped over this little line, “The hike isn’t an easy one, as many of the pathways are still a work in progress,” and instead focused on the fact that, “the views at the top are more than enough reward.”

Well said.

To see the fortress walls of Kotor all lit up at night, click here. And then tell me, what would you do for a good view?

Thrifty Travel Mama | Adventures in Montenegro with Kids - Bay of Kotor

Stuck at the border. This line took us nearly 1 1/2 hours..

More Notes on Montenegro:

  • Driving directions will tell you that Kotor is about 1:30 – 1:45 from Dubrovnik. Don’t believe everything you read. Double that time to allow for long lines at the border (maybe triple it in summer). We were only about 12 cars away from the crossing and it took nearly 1 1/2 hours. Apparently there are problems with drugs, guns, money, and the like in and out of MNE so that’s why the checks are thorough. See? I told you, dangerous…
  • The roads were horrific – one lane in each direction, winding and twisting around the water with 40-60km/hr speed limits, slow old beaters and big trucks.
  • Bring loads of snacks and entertainment options (or practice your hand at these games that don’t require any equipment) in case you get stuck.
  • Living in Germany, we have become quite accustomed to not bringing our passports when we pop over to France or dip down to Switzerland. They’re never asked for or checked. But you definitely need your passport with you when crossing any borders in this region.
  • There’s a ferry option to cross the bay of Kotor, but it is not much faster than driving around the bay and the second option is much more scenic. Plus, if you drive around the bay, you can stop in Perast.
  • To up the awesomeness of your time in Kotor, park in Perast and take a boat out to the island of Our Lady of the Rocks. We didn’t make it out there, unfortunately, but I believe the boat costs 5 euros per person. At the very least, pull over and have a look; the two little islands are lovely to look at from the shore (see the second photo in this post). Check out Travis and Calli’s post on getting to Perast via public transport here.
  • Parking outside of the city gate in the town of Kotor is quite cheap (around 1 euro/hr) and convenient.
  • You can find small grocery stores inside the city walls or larger supermarket-type stores a bit further out.

Signature Thrifty Travel MamaThis post is part of Our Croatian Family Adventure: Ten Days on the Dalmatian Coast series.  Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!

Snapshot: The Swiss Castles of Bellinzona with Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)On Tuesday, I told you all about our time in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, on our way back to Germany from a totally rad two weeks in Italy last summer.  Apparently, order isn’t very important to me this week because I’m sharing today about our very first stop on that road trip before we even made it to the Italian border – Bellinzona, Switzerland.

Never heard of it?

Honestly, I hadn’t either. But that’s what you get when you start randomly grabbing names off a map.

How do I come up with these places?  Well, my pit stop selection process usually goes a little something like this…

  • Chart the route in Google maps.
  • Decide how many segments we’ll need to complete the trip.  My kids can usually handle 3 hours if awake and offered food, 4 if asleep and forced to wear eye masks.
  • Search for a city or attraction in the targeted area that we’re interested in seeing anyway, or…
  • Find a park, hiking trail, vista, or other outdoor wonder to explore.

Sometimes the second option is the best because it ensures that the wiggly males from the back seat can just run around and be loud, obnoxious boys for a while instead of having to sit quietly in the back seat like little girls.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

When I found Bellizona, I hit the jackpot.  This small city is big time famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, and Sasso Corbaro) that have together been an UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.

Check out this blurb from Bellizona’s tourism website (emphasis theirs):

These fortresses number among the finest examples of medieval fortification architecture in the alpine region. As they appear today, Bellinzona’s fortifications, whose origins actually go much further back to a prehistoric settlement on Castelgrande hill, are mainly the result of intensive and complex building activity undertaken by the Dukes of Milan in the 15th century… These battlements, towers and gateway, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000, are still a source of wonder today.

For more history, lore, and practical visitor information click here and here.

Since we could only spend a few hours in Bellinzona, I decided we should concentrate our time at only one of the castles.  Our options:

  • Castelgrande: the largest and the oldest.  Located in the city center, access is via a steep set of stairs, a long and winding path, or an elevator.
  • Montebello: smaller, and stands guard 90m above Bellinzona.  Access is via a footpath from Piazza Collegiata in the center or by car/bus on the Via Artore.
  • Sasso Corbaro: austere yet solid new kid on the block.  Only possible to visit by car.
Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

Castelgrande

While the Catelgrande might be the first choice of many (check out Urban Bliss Life’s visit with kids), we opted for Montebello instead for two reasons (1) ease of access by car, and (2) it’s possible to see the other castles from Montebello.

The GPS took us right to the parking lot of the castle (free).  While we cleaned up the poo explosion from the birthday boy‘s car seat, the older boys discovered a decent playground adjacent to the parking lot (score!) with a typically Swiss fresh water fountain.  Once all the muck had been removed, I strapped Big Foot to my back, and we all went to have a look see.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

Doc Sci was about to go all gaga on me about the drawbridges when I reminded him that the purpose of this visit was for him to nap.  We’d been up since 3:30am, and he still had another five hours of driving to do.  Safety first, boys & girls!Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

I was instantly enchanted by this castle.  It had everything you could ask for in an old fortress – walls to walk, bridges to cross, heavy doors to heave, and absolutely marvelous views.

Plus, it was deserted.  I love having the place to ourselves.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)The boys and I scrambled up and down stairs, scurried in and out of every available doorway, and burst out into the meadow in front of the castle.  I was surprised at how close the Castelgrande seemed from Montebello and that I could see the Sasso Corbaro peeking out from the trees further up.

But, T-Rex?  He was just surprised at how fun it was to tumble down the grassy hill.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

See the Sasso Corbaro up there?

The walls belonging to the actual castle of Montebello are rigged with modern metal walkways and railings for visitors to traipse about as they please.  Unfortunately, the outer walls are not… or at least I couldn’t find a way up.  I might’ve tried harder if I didn’t have a baby on my back.Thrifty Travel Mama | Snapshot: Bellinzona Castles with Kids (Switzerland)

In short, these little-known castles are gems.  They’re brilliant for boys, history nerds, and weary-on-the-way to Italy travelers.  I only wish we’d had more time to fully appreciate all three castles at Bellinzona!

My snapshot of the castles at Bellinzona: silent, ancient, fantastic, and worthy of all the time you can spare to explore.

Have you been to Bellinzona?  I’d love to hear about your visit or why you might add it to your own bucket list!Signature-MarigoldBe sure to check out What to See in Zadar from Chasing the Donkey as well as all the other fine Sunday Traveler posts!

Hohentwiel – AWESOME Castle Ruins for Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsIf you decide to visit only one smashed up castle in Germany, make it Hohentwiel.  In a nutshell, this place is absolutely stunning!  The extensive grounds dwarf the other ruins we have explored.  But, bring a picnic – you’ll be here a while!Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsFirst built in 914, the fortress at Hohentwiel (near Singen) at different times housed both a monastery and a prison.  During its heyday, it was considered unconquerable.  It’s no wonder that Napoleon ordered Hohentwiel destroyed in 1801.  Today, it’s the largest castle ruin complex in Germany, a claim verified by our good friend Wikipedia.Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsWe arrived by car, but it’s also possible to come by public transport.  Stop half way up the mountain at the barn-like welcome center, and purchase your tickets (3,50 adults / kids free / family rate available).  It’d be a shame to hack it up the hill, just to be stuck outside the iron gates!

Speaking of that “hill”… it’s a brutal one.  It might look innocent enough at first; hey, it’s even paved most of the way.  But the climb is quite steep. That’s not to say kids can’t or shouldn’t attempt it.  We survived with a minimal amount of whining and, on the descent, observed a considerable number of senior citizens making the trek.  So, buck up!  You can do it!

Leave your pram at home unless you want to keep your arms in line with your ears the whole way.  Even if you did muscle a stroller up the mountain, it’s rather useless inside the complex.

Don't let this benign-looking path fool you...

Don’t let this benign-looking path fool you…

At least you can feast your eyes while your feet are screaming.

At least you can feast your eyes while your legs are screaming.

Screech thought he'd try a horizontal ascent, inching along parallel to the stone path.

Screech thought he’d try a horizontal ascent, inching along parallel to the stone path.  Yeah, that lasted about 3 seconds.

Descending was equally as challenging.  Time to get some walking poles and make life easy on the knees.

Descending was equally as challenging. Time to get some walking poles and make life easy on the knees.

Please do yourself a favor and leave the stroller at home!  I can only imagine what was running through that dad's head...

I can only imagine what was running through this dad’s head… and his kid isn’t even in the stroller!

While we were walking up to the ruins, Doc Sci noticed cords and lights strung up along the path.  When we reached the entrance, we found a stage and loads of equipment littering the fortress.  Boo.  Nothing like a bunch of techies and sound equipment to make a mess of your photographs.

Ugh, look at all this junk!

Ugh, look at all this junk!  And to the right you can see a stage.  We found at least 10 of these around the complex.  No bueno.

Visitors to Hohentwiel have several levels of ruins to conquer.  We didn’t look around the lower part on account of it being chock full of kegs and beer advertisements.  After a quick gander over the wall, we carried on up the steep, rocky path.

On the main level, we found the tower.  It’s not very pretty to photograph due to the cell phone antennae bolted to the side.  The view, however, goes beyond amazing.  On a clear day, you can see the Alps!

Whoa, Nelly!

Obviously, our day was not clear enough for the Alps…

The boys and I decided to investigate the tunnels underneath the original castle structure.  They giggled with delight as their shoes slid around on the slimy stones.  I couldn’t get over how much cooler the air felt; my non-scientific self estimated a 20F difference.  Nothing like free, natural air conditioning!

Deep, dark, and cool.

Deep, dark, and cool.

The best discovery for me lay in a smallish circular tower (real technical, I know) on the south side of the fortress.  Initially, we climbed down to it in order to snap a photo of the view, sans crowd control barriers.  We were delighted to find that we could, in fact, go on the tower.

Down, down, down, we picked our way carefully on the stone steps of the circular staircase.  We found ourselves in a cool, quiet recess.  The boys climbed up the rock in several places.  From here, we could watch the festival worker bees scurrying to set up their ugly equipment.

Don't miss this!!

Don’t miss this!!

Gah, just can't even get over that view.

Gah, just can’t even get over that view.

Keep the kids close; no railings here!

Keep the kids close; no railings here!

We passed this as we climbed down the stairs - a clue as to this area's former purpose, perhaps?

We passed this as we climbed down the stairs – a clue as to this area’s former purpose, perhaps?

Casing the joint.

Casing the joint.

Hello, pretty.

Hello, pretty.

If you want to know how my kids feel about traveling all the time, this picture says it all.

By the way, if you want to know how my kids feel about traveling all the time, this picture says it all.

We spent roughly two hours at the Hohentwiel ruins, and we would’ve stayed longer if we had not made plans to visit a few places in Switzerland later in the day.  As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend bringing a sack lunch.  I noticed several proper picnic tables as well as benches.  Even the most boring salami sandwich can be turned into a memorable meal when this is your backdrop!Thrifty Travel Mama | Hohentwiel - AWESOME Castle Ruins for KidsIf you’re within day trip distance of Singen, add these ruins to the top of your “must see” list.  Unfortunately for us, no ruin in Germany will ever impress as much as the Hohentwiel.  Fortunately, we don’t care – we’ll never stop exploring!

Visiting the Bodensee / Lake Constance area?  You won’t want to miss Mainau, Stein am Rhein, or the city of Konstanz.  What are your favorite smashed up castles, German or otherwise?Signature-MarigoldYou can find this post and loads of absolutely fascinating travel-related posts at the Sunday Traveler hosted by my friend Chasing the Donkey. Check this week’s list out here!

Hornberg – Castle Ruins For Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsMy weekend usually goes a little something like this.  Learn about something interesting to see within a 1-2 hour drive.  Do a little research, get that familiar travel itch.  Pack a lunch the night before, and rush out the door Saturday morning.  If I can ignore the whining from the back seat (which thankfully has nothing to do with the adventure at hand), I start to get excited.  This is going to be… fun! great! amazing!

But every once in a while, I arrive at a place and think, eh… it’s.. okay.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsI felt that way about our recent excursion to Hornberg in the Black Forest (Schwarzwald).  We love ruins, even small ones like we found in Staufen.  But the draw, the whole point is to be able to explore them, right?  Unfortunately, the hands-on factor at Hornberg is rather low.  So, why am I writing about it?  Because – impenetrable ruins aside – it’s an amazing picnic spot.  If you find yourself in the Schwarzwald with a sandwich in hand, this is where you should eat it. Thrifty Travel Mama | Hornberg - Castle Ruins for KidsAlso, for little legs, injured legs, or lazy legs, Hornberg is ideal.  A hotel with a restaurant and a biergarten sits atop the hill adjacent to the ruins.  This means you can conveniently drive up the mountain, bypassing the crazy steep trail that would otherwise be your only option.  Inside the building you’ll find restrooms, and kids will quickly discover the playground outside.

We didn’t see any signs stating that the parking was solely for hotel or restaurant guests.  But, with less than 10 spaces, you might need a bit of luck to nab one.  For those willing to make the trek up the road on foot, another parking lot is located at the base of the hill.

Here’s a look at our time at Hornberg in pictures.

First stop - the playground next to the biergarten.  We had the run of the place and felt like kings feasting above the subjects below.  In reality, we were just a couple of foreigners digging into PB&J at a picnic table.  Hey, at least we had some shade.

First stop – the playground next to the biergarten. We had the run of the place and felt like kings feasting above the subjects below. Okay really, we were just a couple of foreigners digging into PB&J at a picnic table. Hey, at least we had some shade and a REALLY awesome view.

Next stop - storm the tower!  We approached the ruins from the back side which is rather unimpressive.  As you can see, we're in backpack carrier territory.

Next stop – storm the tower! We approached the ruins from the back side near the playground which is not as picturesque as the front path. As you can see, we’re in backpack carrier territory.

This locked cage should've been our first clue...

This locked cage should’ve been our first clue…

The tower is locked!  Bummer.  Not only could we not climb up inside, the excessive shrubbery made taking even one decent panorama shot impossible.

The tower is locked!  Not only could we not climb up inside, the excessive shrubbery made taking even one decent panorama shot impossible.  Boo!

Coming back down the steps, I snapped this.  Okay, Hornberg, you might be starting to redeem yourself.

Coming back down the steps, I snapped this. Okay, Hornberg, you might be starting to redeem yourself.

The only other remaining structure besides the tower is the armory.  Again, nice to take a look, but locked up tight.

The only other remaining structure besides the tower is the armory. Again, nice to take a gander, but locked up tight.

The boys did like the "guns" inside once I explained what they actually were.

The boys did like the “guns” inside once I explained what they actually were.

The thrill factor increased for the young crowd once this cave was discovered.

The thrill factor increased for the young crowd once this cave was discovered.

More attempted bouldering ensued.

More attempted bouldering ensued.

On the front side of the ruins, you'll find a secluded bench which would be lovely for a proposal.

On the front side of the ruins, you’ll find a secluded bench with this backdrop which would be lovely for a proposal.

As you can see, visiting Hornberg isn’t completely a waste of time.  But, I would definitely recommend this being a stop along your Black Forest journey, rather than the final destination.  Combine it with a visit to the Triberg Waterfalls for an easy Saturday excursion.Signature-Marigold
More ruins!!

Kastelburg Castle Ruins for Kids in Germany

Kastelburg

Badenweiler Castle Ruins and Spa Town

Badenweiler

Chateau de St Ulrich France - Hiking with Kids

Château de Saint-Ulrich

Badenweiler – A Family Friendly Spa Town

Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownI’m sure I’ve said it before, but holidays can be the hardest times to be an expat.  Beyond missing family and friends, sometimes the celebrations just don’t exist in another country.  American Independence Day is one such holiday.

While we have been to a Fourth of July party in Germany before, it’s still not quite the same.  So, this year, a friend and I decided we would have our own little picnic and try to keep the tradition alive for our kiddos.  She suggested we let the little ones explore the German spa town of Badenweiler before gorging ourselves on an as-American-as-you-can-get buffet.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownBadenweiler is a poser-free spa and resort town and an easy jaunt from the A5 in the southwest corner of Germany.  While most people come for the Cassiopeia thermal baths, I’d recommend staying for the scenery.  The area is simply charming.

So Sound of Music...

So Sound of Music…

Parking is a cinch at any of the designated lots.  We chose the parking garage in between the Schlosspark and Kurpark on Friedrichstr.  However, if you’re looking to save some cash, drive up the hill behind the Schlosspark and leave the car at the (free) south lot.

After loading up our backpacks, we wandered around in the Schlosspark, an area chock full of dozens of different tree species (all labeled).  The boys discovered a small playground completely with funky baby swings.  Should you find yourself in need of some coffee and cake, visit the Kunst Palais Cafe ARTig on the grounds.  Prices seemed reasonable here as opposed to the posh and expensive restaurants on the main drag.

Ruined Roman.

Ruined Roman.

The boys splashed a bit in the fountain on the Schlossplatz before heading up the hill to the ruins in the Kurpark.  You can push a pram up the hill here (and we did), but as always, a backpack carrier is best.  If this kind of crazy workout is your thing, stick to the paved path.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownWe climbed up in turrets and scrambled around inside the nearly intact walls.  We feasted our eyes on the fantastic view, and soaked in the sunshine warming the entire valley.  When the tummies started to rumble, we headed back down the hill and found a shady picnic spot close to the concert house.  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownWe smoothed out blankets and spread a feast of hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips, chicken tenders, pasta salad, and apple pie.  At least if we couldn’t have fireworks, we were going to have us some darn good American food!Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThe kids frolicked around the meadow and painted themselves silly with red and blue watercolors while the parents sipped sweet tea.

After lunch, we meandered on down to the Roman bath ruins.  While contemplating whether or not to fork over the five euro family admission fee, the curator offered to let us in for free.  Score!  Thrifty Travel Mama - Badenweiler, A Family Friendly Spa TownThe small exhibit is well done, though signs are only in German.  I really appreciated how the raised walkway allowed us a unique view of the ancient baths.  Doc Sci tried to explain to the boys what they were looking at, but all they really understood was that these old pools look quite similar to our pools today.

Since we needed to let Big Foot take a nap, we skipped the Cassiopeia thermal baths this time.  Unlike the facilities Baden-Baden, this spa is family-friendly, and there is a discount for two adults visiting with up to three children.

On our next trip to Badenweiler (and we hope to return soon!), we’ll make sure to visit the Park der Sinne, a park of the senses.  This free outdoor experience seems like a great place for families to explore.

While I can’t say our kids really learned much about American Independence or why the Fourth of July is a holiday, we did teach them about the importance of embracing and celebrating our American heritage while we live in this beautiful foreign land.

For some decidedly German holidays, read about their Labor Day, Epiphany, and Carnival.Signature-Marigold

Kastelburg – Castle Ruins for Kids

Thrifty Travel Mama | Kastelburg - Castle Ruins in Germany for KidsOne of the things I love most about living in Europe is that we are surrounded by history.  We can barely move a kilometer without bumping into something centuries old.  Castle ruins are some of our family’s favorite odes to bygone ages.  The boys love to explore the old architecture, pretend to storm the walls, and engage in fierce stick duels.

At this age, knights (Rittern) still capture their attention.  When I read about a castle ruin in Waldkirch, Germany, that was accessible by a path guarded by wooden knights, I knew we had to go.

The sword marks the spot.

The sword marks the spot.

Arriving in Waldkirch is easy by train or by car.  We found plentiful free parking near the Bahnhof.  Cross the tracks and head up Heitereweg.  Keep your eyes peeled for a large sign featuring a freaky-eyed lady and a gigantic sword.

The path - not too rocky, but not smooth enough for a stroller.

The path – not too rocky, but not smooth enough for a stroller.

The trail up to the Kastelburg isn’t too challenging even for little legs.  Rest assured, the children will be more interested in searching for the next knight along the path than complaining about the incline.  The way isn’t paved, so I don’t recommend pushing a pram up the hill.  Use a baby carrier instead.

The first knight along the trail.

The first knight along the trail.

I was intrigued by the different armor...

I was intrigued by the different armor…

But all the boys wanted to do was joust!

But all the boys wanted to do was joust!

Seeing as you're made of wood, I don't think you stand a chance against me.

Seeing as you’re made of wood, I don’t think you stand a chance against me.

Each Ritter standing guard along the route is carved from wood, and a small sign announces the story of how this particular man became a knight.  The text is in German, so brush up on your medieval words or create fairy tales on the fly.

A few days before our visit, a storm with unusually high winds swept through our corner of Germany.  As a result, several trees were down, and one even blocked our path to the castle.  No matter, our small company of warriors were still able to charge the castle.

What's that philosophical question.. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

What’s that philosophical question.. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Eh, what's a 30 meter tree to some knights in training?

Eh, what’s a 30 meter tree to some knights in training?

Several walls and the tower of the Kastelburg are still intact.  The boys spent nearly a half an hour scrambling to explore every nook and cranny of the grounds.  I only saw one old stone window that wasn’t barred; everywhere else was boy-proof.

The VIEW - the panorama is always worth the pain.

The VIEW – the panorama is always worth the pain.

A carving of the castle as it was centuries ago.

A carving of the castle as it was centuries ago.

One of several walls still standing.

One of several walls still standing.

In fact, those without a fear of heights or vertigo issues can climb the steps inside the tower to catch an amazing view of Waldkirch and beyond.  We did this, palms sweating and heart pounding the whole way.  Keep your little ones close; it’s a looooooong way down.

The spooky stairs inside the Kastelburg tower.

The spooky stairs inside the Kastelburg tower.

Should you find yourself at the Kastelburg near the lunch hour, you’ll be pleased to know that picnic tables are located at the base of the fortress.  Bring your own rations, or buy them in Waldkirch before heading up the hill.  We didn’t make use of the tables since we visited in the morning and had already climbed up and down the Ritterweg before it was even time to break out the sandwiches.

Blowing past the picnic tables and charging ahead toward the magnificent view.

Blowing past the picnic tables and charging ahead toward the magnificent view.

In fact, we still had so much time and energy left over that we resolved to visit the hair-raising Naturerlebnispark on the other side of the village.  Read more about that adventure Thursday!

Knights and castles – what fun for the whole family!  I can confidently say we’ll be adding the castle ruins in Waldkirch to our list of easy family adventures to share with family and friends who come to visit.Signature-Marigold

More ruins!!

Hochburg Castle Ruins for Kids in Germany

Hochburg

Staufen Hiking with Kids in Germany

Staufen

Chateau de St Ulrich France - Hiking with Kids

Château de Saint-Ulrich

Wandering Weekend: Staufen, Germany

Staufen!  Big Foot was also with us, but he was hanging out on Doc Sci's back.

Staufen! Big Foot was also with us, but he was hanging out on Doc Sci’s back.

The German word for hiking is wandern.  It’s one of the words I actually like – short, easy to say, and it actually makes sense.  We’re getting into the German wandering thing and exploring small villages, castle ruins, and the countryside every chance we get.

Two weekends ago we wandered on over to the little village of Staufen.  It’s a wine town, and perched above the grapevines is a smashed up castle.  Exploring such a place on a Saturday morning is definitely our idea of a good time.

Below is a peek at our little trek.  Enjoy!

Why, hello there castle ruin.

Why, hello there castle ruin.

We tried to memorize this map and the various ways to hop to the top..

We tried to memorize this map and the various ways to hop to the top..

but, we kinda sorta took the wrong way and ended up here with the sheep.  It was a happy accident though - the boys loved watching the lambs.

but, we kinda sorta took the wrong way and ended up here with the sheep. It was a happy accident though – the boys loved watching the lambs.

Back on track, we found this walkman just hanging out in a tree.  Geocaching??

Back on track, we found this old skool Walkman just hanging out in a tree. Geocaching??

And German dudes tending to their vines.

It must have been a day for tending the vines because we came across several workers.

It must have been prime time for vine dressing because we came across several workers.  Nice view from the office for this dude.

Nice view from the office for this dude.

Hey there, little village of Staufen!  The view from the top is swell.

Hey there, little village of Staufen! The view from the top is swell.

Even my five year-old thinks you're something to look at.

Even my five year-old thinks you’re something to look at.

Though not as impressive as Hochburg, the ruins were nice enough for a picnic lunch.

Though not as impressive as Hochburg, the ruins were nice enough for a picnic lunch.

Not wanting to backtrack, we took the alternate route down the hill.  And by down, I mean we almost fell down the extremely narrow, steep steps.

Not wanting to backtrack, we took the alternate route down the hill. And by down, I mean we almost fell face first on the extremely narrow, steep steps.

The ruins from the other side.

The ruins from the other side.

Staufen has a little Wii wine shop.  How could you not stop in and buy a bottle?

Staufen has a little Wii wine shop (hehe). How could you not stop in and buy a bottle especially when you almost tumbled down the hill where the grapes were grown?

Nerdy travel alert!  Doc Sci explained to T-Rex how this ancient wine press works.

Nerdy travel alert! Doc Sci had a good time explaining to T-Rex how this ancient wine press works.

Spare bottles in case you want to give it a go yourself?

Spare bottles in case you want to give it a go yourself?

My favorite find of the day - an iron pretzel.

My favorite find of the day – an iron pretzel.

Thanks for letting me share!  Where would you like to wander?

Signature-Marigold

Hochburg – Castle Ruins for Kids

Hochburg Castle Ruins

Hochburg Castle Ruins

We’ve experienced unusually warm temps this winter in Germany.  And by warm, I mean warm for people who are from cold places.  For us Florida folk, it’s still flippin’ freezin’.  But, it doesn’t keep us from going outside in search of adventure.

All sorts of exciting make believe can be found among castle ruins.  Don’t believe me?  Take along two boys under the age of six and suddenly you’re slinging arrows, fending off foes with sturdy stick-swords, and cooking up concoctions that put Stone Soup to shame.

I think I’m teaching my boys about history and culture, but really they’re schooling me.  Seriously, how could I have missed that Spiderman lived in medieval times?

If you want to take your own little critters to this particular castle ruin known as Hochburg, it can be found just outside the village of Emmendingen.  Head in the direction of Windenreute, and follow the brown signs.  The castle can be seen at the top of the hill.  We took the car this time, but I noticed a bus stop at the trail head for those using public transportation.  Parking is adjacent to the road, free, and happens to be in the vicinity of some very smelly cows.  Moo.

Here’s a look at our hike.

Okay, I called this a hike, but it's less than 1km from the parking lot to the castle.  And most of it is paved.  It's certainly doable to push a pram up the hill.

Okay, I called this a hike, but it’s less than 1km from the parking lot to the castle. And most of it is paved. It’s certainly doable to push a pram up the hill.

On the way, we caught a lovely view of the village of Emmendingen.

On the way, we caught a lovely view of the village of Emmendingen.

Since we expected a much longer trek up to the castle, we decided to be properly German and go wandering about the forest.

Since we expected a much longer trek up to the castle, we decided to be properly German and go wandering about the forest.

The boys pretended to be street sweepers, pushing all the leaves away.  But Doc Sci had something more manly in mind.  When we discovered a tree that had fallen across the path, he told the boys that someone was setting a trap for us and we needed to fight them.  We brandished our big sticks, counted to five, and yelled, "CHARGE!" running full speed ahead up the hill for a full 3 seconds.

The boys pretended to be street sweepers, pushing all the leaves away. But Doc Sci had something more manly in mind. When we discovered a tree that had fallen across the path, he told the boys that someone was setting a trap for us and we had to defeat them. All together, we brandished our big sticks, counted to five, and yelled, “CHARGE!” running full speed ahead up the hill for a all of 3 seconds.  If this does not sound fun to you, please do not have boys.

Unfortunately, nothing sounds fun to this kid.  Depressed is the best look I can get from Big Foot whenever we go on adventures.

Unfortunately, nothing sounds fun to this kid. Depressed is the best look I can get from Big Foot whenever we go on adventures.  Please excuse the snot rivers.  I wiped them after the photo.  I promise.

We randomly discovered this little hut which can be rented.  Maybe if I spoke German, I could figure out how.

We randomly discovered this little hut which can be rented. Maybe if I spoke German, I could figure out how.  And why anyone would want to rent a little hut in the middle of the forest.

When I asked T-Rex the next day what his favorite part of the hike just happened to be, he could remember only two things.  The insane amount of mud we trudged through, and the copious amounts of horse poop that littered the trail.

When I asked T-Rex the next day what his favorite part of the hike just happened to be, he could remember only two things: the insane amount of mud we trudged through, and the copious amounts of horse poop that littered the trail.  Such sophisticated knowledge my children are absorbing through these experiences.

After we'd had enough of the mud and poo, we hightailed it back to the castle.

After we’d had enough of the mud and poo, we hightailed it back to the castle along a path strewn with firewood and timber.

Poor baby had fallen asleep by then, burying his face in boogers no doubt.

Poor baby had fallen asleep by then, burying his face in boogers no doubt.  Isn’t this fluffy bear suit ridiculous?

Grape vines surround the castle.  I bet this place is hoppin' come harvest time.

The hill surrounding the castle is crawling with grape vines.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and guess those haven’t been there for centuries.  Thirsty plunderers wouldn’t have stood for it.

The views are nothing short of idyllic.

The views are nothing short of idyllic… if you can enjoy them with shrieking children in the background.

Should you fancy a picnic on the castle grounds, note that there are proper tables and benches surrounding the fortress.

Should you fancy a picnic on the castle grounds, note that there are proper tables and benches surrounding the fortress.

Or you can go rogue and munch atop the old kitchen stove.

Or, you can go rogue and munch atop the old kitchen stove.

The ruins at Hochburg are roomy enough for romping around, but cozy enough for keeping an eye on rambunctious youngsters.

The ruins at Hochburg are roomy enough for romping around, but cozy enough for keeping an eye on rambunctious youngsters.

Should you need a loo after lunch, only slightly medieval bathrooms are located near the entrance.  Unless you happen to visit November through March in which case you'll have to hold it since the water is not turned on in the winter.

If you need a loo after lunch, only slightly medieval bathrooms are located near the entrance. Well, unless you happen to visit sometime November through March in which case you’ll have to hold it since the water is not turned on in the winter.

It seems that everyone in our family relishes a good ruin.  (Well, except for grumpy baby #3, but he'll come around..)  Several down, only 23,971 to go!

We’ve come to the conclusion that everyone in our little family relishes a good ruin. (Well, except for grumpy boy #3, but he’ll come around..) So, here’s to it – several down, only 23,971 more (in Germany) to go!

Do you love a good castle ruin?  Check out our adventures in Staufen and Chateau de St. UlrichSignature-Marigold

Our First French Road Trip – Château de Saint-Ulrich

Hooray!  We’re stretching our travel wings again, and making small steps toward becoming European road trippers.

This past Saturday, we swallowed our breakfast whole, and then rushed to pile all the boys in the car.   We wanted to leave before Big Foot’s nap time, so that he could (hopefully) sleep in the car.  Yeah right.  The kid hates his car seat.

Our destination?  The Alsace region of France in general, the region north of Colmar specifically, and the three castles above Ribeauvillé exactly.

Though the new car came with a built-in GPS navigational system, we hadn’t tested it out yet so I made sure to print out driving directions just in case.  And good thing, too.  The directions while in Germany were accurate, but the French ones were not.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.  Let’s recap.. in pictures.

Screech, Big Foot, and T-Rex ready to ride.

Screech, Big Foot, and T-Rex ready to ride.

Driving to France was much quicker (and less painful) than running there.

Driving to France was much quicker (and less painful) than running there.

It might sound exciting to drive through France, but this is what you're in for... lots and lots of fields.  Blah.

It might sound exciting to drive through France, but this is what you’re in for… lots and lots of fields. Blah.

Since the Navi wasn't working properly, we made our way to Ribeauville using the printed driving directions.  But after a  couple of quick turns and I lost my place in the text...

Since the navi wasn’t working properly, we made our way to Ribeauville using the printed driving directions. But after a couple of quick turns, I lost my place in the text…

...and we ended up in the thick of the pedestrian zone!  Oops.

…and we ended up in the thick of the pedestrian zone! I could’ve stuck my hand out the window and touched the goods for sale, we were so close.  Oops.

As we were meandering our way out of the teeny streets, I looked up and saw our destination!

As we were meandering our way out of the teeny streets, I looked up and saw our destination!

We followed the road until we came to a parking lot and a dead end.  I asked some nice French lady (in German) if it was the way to the castles.  She assured me it was, so out piled the boys and up the mountain we went.

We followed the road until we came to a parking lot and a dead end. I asked some nice French lady (in German) if it was the way to the castles. She assured me it was, so out jumped the boys and up the mountain we went.  After a few minutes, we came to this sign.

The path to the top was quite steep, and most of it was covered with small rocks.

The path to the top was quite steep, and most of it was covered with small rocks.

We pressed on, and suddenly the path cleared.  Though the castles were still a long ways off, we at least had the end goal in sight.

We pressed on, and suddenly the path cleared. Though the castles were still a long ways off, we could at least see what we were after.

Before we could reach the castle, though, we'd have to cross this area of solid rock.  Though it was a bit dicey, it was nothing like hiking Hallasan.

Before we could reach the castle, though, we’d have to cross this area of solid rock. Though it was a bit dicey, it was nothing like hiking Hallasan.

I was really proud of the boys for hiking up a mountain for a whole hour without complaining.  In the end, we promised the first snack to the first boy to reach the castle.

I was really proud of the boys for hiking up a mountain for a whole hour without complaining. In the end, we had to bribe them to pick up the pace during the last five minutes of walking.  We promised the first snack to the first boy to reach the castle.

The payoff for such a short but steep hike was huge.  The view from the top was nothing short of marvelous.

The payoff for such a short but steep hike was huge. The view from the top was nothing short of marvelous.

While Doc Sci and I ogled the scenery, the boys played in the ruins.

While Doc Sci and I ogled the scenery, the boys played in the ruins.

You can see

You can see Chateau de Girsberg from Chateau de Saint-Ulrich.  It’s also possible to hike to Girsberg, but we didn’t want to push our luck with the little ones.

At the top, we attempted to take some family Christmas pictures.  As I was packing up, I noticed we had company from a token French guy in a beret.

At the top, we attempted to take some family Christmas pictures. And I do mean attempted.  Getting three boys under the age of five to all look at the camera and not make dorky faces is nothing short of a miracle.  As I was putting the camera away, I noticed we had company from a token French guy in a beret.

Bellies were rumbling, so we decided it was time to go.  But what a great day we had breaking Big Foot in to what I hope will just be the first of many hikes.

Bellies were rumbling, so we decided it was time to go. But what a great day we had breaking Big Foot in to what I hope will just be the first of many hikes.

On the descent, we handed T-Rex the camera and let him snap a few shots.  Here's what I found when I downloaded the pictures.

On the descent, we handed T-Rex the camera and let him snap a few shots. Here’s what I found when I downloaded the pictures.

Thanks, France!  We'll be back soon.

Thanks, France! We’ll be back soon.

Love France?  Check out our trips to Strasbourg and Colmar and read about the time I ran from Germany to France.Signature-Marigold